Tag Archives: pesto

Creamy Pesto Sauce

creamy pesto ravioli


When it comes to gardening, my thumb is pretty much black.  The one thing I have success with every summer, though, is basil.

This is only a fraction of basil leaves on my plants!

This is only a fraction of basil leaves on my plants!

And everyone knows, the best way to use copious amounts of basil is to make PESTO!  I make a lot during the summer and freeze it for future use.  When freezing, the one thing you want to remember to do is omit the cheese — it messes up the texture.  Then after the pesto is thawed and heated, add grated parmesan to it.

Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts, which can be really expensive. I buy the Chinese ones instead of the Spanish ones.  Also, you can substitute walnuts for the pine nuts if the price is too great in your area.

Mmm.  Toasted pine nuts!
Mmm. Toasted pine nuts!

You just process the nuts with basil, garlic, parmesan, salt, and olive oil, and you end up with a great sauce.  You can also thin the sauce with some hot pasta water (from the pot you boiled your pasta in).

pesto with pasta

With some extra grated parmesan of course!

I also love pesto on sauteed zucchini “pasta”.  You may like this low carb alternative.

pesto with zucchini slices

Another great pesto sauce is a creamy version.  Heat cream cheese and milk in a sauce pan, whisk until smooth, and then whisk in about 2 large spoonfuls of pesto.  It makes a wonderfully creamy pesto sauce that is not as rich and fattening as one made with heavy cream.

creamy pesto ravioli2

Which do you prefer?  Regular or creamy pesto sauce?

Pesto Sauce

1/4 to 1/2 cup  pine nuts

a huge bunch of basil leaves, washed and dried

2 garlic cloves, smashed

about 1/4 cup olive oil or more as needed

grated parmesan to taste

kosher salt to taste

1.  Toast pine nuts.  I use my toaster oven.  Watch carefully, because they brown quickly!  You could also toast them in a skillet on the stove.  Keep stirring and watch them so you don’t burn them.  Remove from heat and let cool.

2.  Wash and dry basil leaves.

3.  Process basil in a food processor until chopped up fine.  Add garlic and pine nuts and process until fine.  While processor is running, add olive oil until the mixture becomes smooth.  Add grated cheese if you plan to use immediately, rather than freezing the pesto.  Taste.  Add salt if you think it needs it. Or more olive oil.

4.  Cook pasta until al dente. Dress with the pesto sauce — thin if you need to with pasta water.

Creamy Pesto Sauce

1/2 cup light cream cheese

1/4 cup milk

2 large spoonfuls of regular pesto sauce (see above)

1.  Heat cream cheese and milk in saucepan over low to medium heat.  Slowly whisk together until smooth.

2.  Whisk in dollops of pesto sauce.

3.  Serve over you favorite pasta.

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Filed under Condiments, Dinner, Pasta, Uncategorized, Vegetarian

Pumpkin Custard and How to Use Leftover Ingredients

Let me tell you something about myself:  I hate wasting food.

One of my pet peeves used to be recipes that only used a small amount of an ingredient, as in one tablespoon of chopped, fresh parsley or two tablespoons of tomato paste, etc.  The leftovers would languish and eventually go bad in the refrigerator — only to be discovered later.  I say “used to be” because I’ve found ways around wasting the rest of the ingredients through various methods.

I realized I did not clarify that with the last recipe I posted! The pumpkin granola bars only call for 1/4 cup each of pumpkin puree and applesauce.   So I wanted to use this as an opportunity to share some tips for using leftover ingredients.

Whenever I have extra, I either use it up right away (e.g. we ate the leftover applesauce over the next days), or I freeze it.  It can drive my patient husband crazy, but I’ve been known to fill our ice cube trays with all sorts of leftover ingredients:  Coconut milk (leftover from curry —  frozen coconut milk is great in smoothies!), tomato paste, marinara sauce, chicken and beef broths, apple sauce, milk and coffee creamer (before we go on a long trip and I know it would go bad otherwise — these are also great in smoothies and frapuccinos!)  Yes, I’ve even frozen pumpkin puree in ice cube trays.  The resulting pumpkin cubes are great in smoothies and this terrific pumpkin frappucino (I use the frozen pumpkin and less ice, so it has more flavor).

My ice cube molds hold about 2 tablespoons.  I freeze the food in them and then transfer the cubes to a labelled freezer bag — the key word being labelled!
Don’t skip this step — believe me, frozen chicken broth looks a lot like applesauce.  To defrost, I zap them in the microwave.  I know each cube is 2 tablespoons, so two cubes are 1/4 cup and four cubes are 1/2, etc.

Frozen coconut milk cubes.

For the leftover pumpkin from the pumpkin granola in the last post, I decided not to freeze the rest of the pumpkin puree and instead made a simple pumpkin pie dessert minus the crust.

I blended the pumpkin, sweetener (I used stevia), cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and milk to taste  in a blender.  Then I added an egg and blended some more. I transferred the mixture to little ramekins and nuked them in the microwave for 2 minutes, then 1 1/2 minutes each until they looked done.  They were delicious with whipped cream and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice on top.

A less decadent pumpkin “pie” dessert.

For leftover ingredients that do not lend themselves easily to freezing, I make other things.  For leftover parsley, I always make tabouleh.  Here is a crunchy version inspired by Mark Bittman.  When I have leftover basil, I always make fresh pesto (which you can freeze or use immediately).  Here’s a recipe that I used when I had leftover basil after making stuffed zucchini.

Recently, I threw together a shrimp curry and had leftover coconut milk (which I froze as mentioned above) and chick peas.  A great way to use leftover chick peas is to puree them with tahini, lemon, garlic, salt, and olive oil to taste and make hummus.  If you only have a little bit though, I would recommend roasting them at a high temperature.  They make a yummy snack or salty treat to throw on your salad.  Just coat with oil or nonstick spray, kosher salt, and/or other seasoning and roast at 400 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes or so.  Roast until they are crunchy.  They are SO good.  I usually end up eating them all in one sitting.  They would probably be good mixed with popcorn, but I never save enough to try it out!

Do you have tricks for using up or saving leftover recipe ingredients?  Do share — I’d love to hear about them!

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On a literary note — I just want to let you all know that this weekend Denis and I will be on a panel with other authors of Halloween themed books at the wonderful Books of Wonder this Saturday at 12-2 pm to share Hush Little Monster.

Oct 27th
Saturday

12pm -2pm
HAUNTED HALLOWEEN FUN!
KARINA WOLF – The Insomniacs
MICHAEL LEVITON- My First Ghost
LEO LANDRY- Trick or Treat
DENNIS MARKELL – Hush, Little Monster
MELISSA IWAI – Hush, Little Monster
GIANNA MARINO – Too Tall Houses

On Sunday, we will be at Book Court in Brooklyn at 11 am.  I will be bringing these (mini) monster cookies to pass out.  If you are in the area, please stop by and say “boo!” 🙂

For info on upcoming events, check here.

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Now for the “recipes” — these are really just guidelines!  It depends on how much of the ingredient you have.

Pumpkin Custard

almost a can of pumpkin puree

sweetener of choice to taste

cinnamon to taste

pumpkin pie spice to taste

1-2 tablespoons or more milk, depending on how thick you like it-for a richer flavor and texture, use heavy cream

1 egg

1.  Blend everything in a blender except egg.  Then taste and adjust spices and milk.  Then add egg and blend some more.  You could also do this in a food processor.

2.  Transfer mixture to ramekins.  Microwave for 2 minutes.  Then again for about 1 1/2 minutes until custard looks cooked.  Serve with whipped cream and extra cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice.

These are quite addicting. If you like them a lot, just go for a whole can!

Roasted Chickpeas

Leftover chickpeas

Non-stick spray

salt and or other seasonings of your choice

1.  Spray chickpeas with spray and sprinkle with salt on foil or parchment lined baking sheet.  Roast at 400 degrees F, shaking pan every 15 minutes, until chickpeas are crunchy — about 30-45 minutes.

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Filed under Books, Desserts, Sides, Vegetarian

Roasted Potato, Tomato, and Cheese Stuffed Zucchini

This is one of my husband’s favorite meals, and considering he only ate brown food before he met me (peanut butter, bacon, meat, bread, etc.), that’s saying a lot.  I’ve been making it for years and have experimented with it along the way.  Sometimes I add mushrooms to the saute. I’ve also added ground meat.  It’s a very forgiving recipe.  Basically you roast the zucchini “boats” and potatoes (I’ve also tried sweet potatoes) in the oven while you saute the onion and other ingredients.  Then you pull the whole thing together by throwing in the roasted potatoes with the sauteed ingredients and add some cheese and fresh herbs (I like basil).  You stuff the “boats” with this mixture, top with cheese, heat until it melts and garnish with more herbs.  It’s a really vibrant and healthy vegetarian meal!

Who knows the best way to store unused basil?  The green market guy told me to place in a glass of water and leave out — DO NOT put in the refrigerator! he commanded.  So I didn’t.  It makes a lovely bouquet, but it wilted within a day and made our kitchen smell like “a pizzeria “, according to my husband.  I’ve also tried washing the leaves, spinning them as dry as possible in a salad spinner, and storing them wrapped in paper towel in a ziploc bag in the refrigerator.  The basil seemed to last longer, but some edges of the leaves still turned brown.  If anyone has a fool-proof method, by all means let me know!

Instead of risking it going bad, I usually just wash the whole bunch and make pesto.  I toast some pine nuts, crush some garlic, and process it with the basil.  While it is processing, I add some olive oil, then taste it and add salt.  If I’m using the pesto immediately, I also process it with grated parmesan cheese.  But if I’m freezing it to store, I omit the cheese and add it later after it’s been defrosted. I can’t remember where I read about this tip — I believe it was in a Mark Bittman column when he used to write for the New York Times.

pesto without cheese

The pesto can be used to flavor pasta, steamed or roasted veggies, as a dip or sandwich spread.  You can add water or more olive oil to thin it out.  For me, this has been the best way to avoid throwing away an ugly bunch of brown basil that never got used!  It’s just a matter of having the other ingredients on hand (if you don’t have pine nuts, other nuts such as walnuts, almonds, even hazelnuts can do the trick, altering the taste a bit, but the pesto is still delicious– it’s fun to improvise) and taking the time to make the pesto.  It is well worth it!

Roasted Potato, Tomato, and Cheese Stuffed Zucchini

4 medium sized zucchini

3 medium red or Yukon potatoes, cut into small cubes

kosher salt and pepper to taste

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

non-stick spray

1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 cup

2 cloves of garlic pressed through garlic press, about 1½ teaspoons

1 plum tomato, cored and deseeded, chopped

1 ½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup chopped basil, divided

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place two foil lined baking sheets in oven, one on top rack and one on bottom rack.  Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out interior flesh with a melon baller or spoon creating a zucchini “boat”.  Reserve flesh for another time.  Cut off a sliver from bottom of each zucchini “boat” so that it can rest without wobbling.  Brush cut halves with 1 teaspoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt.  Roast in oven for 10 minutes on top baking sheet, cut side down.
  2. Toss potato cubes with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Gently remove heated empty baking sheet from oven.  Spray with non-stick spray and transfer potatoes onto sheet, spreading into one even layer.  Return to bottom rack in oven.  Roast for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking period.
  3. While zucchini and potatoes are roasting, heat remaining olive oil in large non-stick skillet.  Sauté onions, stirring constantly, until onions are soft.  Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add tomatoes and the roasted potatoes.  Cook until tomatoes are soft.  Off heat, add ½ cup cheese and 1/3 cup of the basil.  Stir to combine.
  4. Turn zucchini halves over and divide potato filling among them.  Sprinkle each with remaining cheese (about 2 tablespoon per zucchini half).  Return to oven and roast for about 5 minutes on top rack, until cheese has melted.  Garnish with remaining basil.  Serve immediately (2 halves per serving).

Yield: 4 servings.

Note:  I used to throw out the extra zucchini flesh I scooped out.  Now I save it in a container in the refrigerator and steam it later or throw it into a stir fry.  There is a lot of it, so it’s really no point in throwing it away when you can use it in something else!

Pesto

A bunch of basil

Kosher salt to taste

About 2 heaping tablespoons of pine nuts, toasted (or other nut)

Clove of garlic, smashed

1 – 2 tablespoons olive oil, depending on taste

Grated parmesan cheese to taste

1.  Process basil, pine nuts, and pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Scrape down edges.  While processor is running, slowly pour in olive oil through feed tube.  Season with more salt to taste.  If using immediately, add parmesan and process again.  If freezing, omit and add parmesan after defrosting.

Makes about 1/2 pint.

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Filed under Condiments, Dinner, Vegetables, Vegetarian